DENVER (AP) — Immigrant advocates seeking a Colorado ballot measure to allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses said Tuesday their petition drive is going slowly, and that their effort to seek an end-run around elected officials by asking for direct public approval is in peril.
“It’s going slow because we do not have that many resources,” said Jose Ortiz, spokesman for a group of Colorado immigrants and others seeking the ballot measure. Ortiz said group members have less than 5 percent of the signatures they want to collect by August.
If approved by voters, the ballot measure would change a law that requires proof of legal residency to be issued a Colorado driver’s license. Activists say illegal immigrants are driving anyway, and that the public would be safer if those drivers could seek licenses and auto insurance.
Critics say granting driving privileges to illegal immigrants creates an incentive to violate immigration laws. Colorado law was changed in 1999 to require proof of legal residency to obtain a driver’s license. Advocates for changing the law back argue that the 1999 change did not deter illegal immigrants.
“They said that people would go home. That if we made it hard enough, they would all go away. We all know that did not happen,” said Jennifer Piper, one of the campaign organizers.
New Mexico and Washington are the only states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain the same driver’s license as a U.S. citizen. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can’t be used for identification, unlike a driver’s license that helps people open bank accounts or board a commercial flight.
The Colorado proposal would give illegal immigrants regular licenses that could be used as government IDs.
Ortiz said supporters are hoping for a direct public-safety appeal to persuade voters to put the driving question on ballots. State lawmakers, he said, won’t change driver’s license policy on their own.
“We know politicians right now don’t have the will to put this on the table,” Ortiz said.
A national survey released Tuesday suggests Ortiz’s argument is true not just in Colorado but nationwide. The National Conference of State Legislatures detected a dramatic decline in immigration-related bills, including driver’s license or other ID proposals.
In 2011, there were 171 ID-related bills in 40 states, according to the organization’s survey. This year, there were 83 such bills proposed in 29 states. Only one became law, a Utah measure making clear that firearms cannot be sold or transferred to illegal immigrants.
Colorado law requires some 86,000 signatures to put a measure on ballots, though campaign organizers say they want to turn in 140,000 signatures to account for errors. Complicating matters for the immigrant advocates is the fact that people who would benefit from the proposed change can’t sign the petition; only registered voters are counted toward citizen initiatives.
The driver’s license measure signatures are due Aug. 6.
– By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press
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